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Ask HN: Real odds of making a living off a web app
35 points by nicholas73 on Oct 31, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments
My goal is to make a webapp that makes a middle class income. It does not have to be Bay Area middle class, but say 100k a year.

What is the real probability this can happen? Or is it a fool's errand?

I'm from a non-software field in my 30's, but I'm tired of grinding it out with a salary that can barely cover the expenses. I'd like to work remotely and live somewhere more affordable.

I don't expect anything to happen right away, but over the next 5 years. Because I don't see myself saving my way to retirement, owning a business where you control your time is the only end game I can see.

I like building apps and take pride in my work, so it seems like a good avenue for me.


I hope it's not a fools errand, as I'm currently attempting to do just this. I have a SaaS product that currently profits about £400/ month, and I have about £20k saved. I'm aiming to be living from my web app in 9 months.

If you're interested I'm doing a completely transparent blog series about my progress - https://blog.bugmuncher.com/2015/10/22/from-side-project-to-... and https://blog.bugmuncher.com/2015/10/22/from-side-project-to-...

Hi Matt, the second link gives me a 404, but loving the honest writing in the "I'm Scared" post.

could you please tell us suspense or do we have to wait for other month? :)

That's for your links. It will be good for me to follow along.

Do you think a manual sales approach would help you? Like, find customers you think would like your product and cold email/call them.

I do think it's a good option, as I only need another 6 subscribers to the top end plan to reach profitability. In fact I've recently been trying a cold email outreach campaign, so far I've only sent about 90 emails, 50% open rate, 12% clicked through, but no sign ups. There will be more about that in part 3

Thanks for this. One of the reasons I come to HN is to get good advice and see posts like this :) I'll be following your project, good luck!

Your timeline is very realistic and I think you will succeed.

Thanks for really nice article.

> I'm tired of grinding it out with a salary that can barely cover the expenses

> owning a business where you control your time is the only end game I can see.

I will encourage you to read first 4-5 chapters of "The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It" by Michael E. Gerber.

“The problem is that everybody who goes into business is actually three-people-in-one: The Entrepreneur, The Manager, and The Technician.

And the problem is compounded by the fact that while each of these personalities wants to be the boss, none of them wants to have a boss.

So they start a business together in order to get rid of the boss. And the conflict begins.”

Excerpt From: Michael E. Gerber. “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.” iBooks.

Great suggestion. This was one of the first books I read as I was starting a business many years ago. It proved invaluable. For anyone not familiar with it, a big focus of the book is about running your business like a franchise. Don't let the word franchise put you off... The reason this is so crucial is that like you mentioned, you don't want to create a bunch of new jobs for yourself. Rather, you want a finely-tuned system that runs itself and frees up your mind for the more important aspects. If you don't do that, you'll be spinning your wheels with little stuff and won't be able to step away from it.

Better be good! I ordered the book right away.

ty for the suggestion.

I think this is the best advice you could get. Add to this Sam carpenter's book "Work the system" and making $100/k a year is pretty easy.

We're a two person team and we've been doing it for the past 5 years like a clockwork. On of our recent sites makes around $200K/year so what you're after is definitely doable.

You just need to understand two things:

1. You can't be the entrepreneur, technician and manager. You need to create an organization first and define the roles clearly on paper.

2. You need a system to do things. Even the smallest of the things need to be part of a system. Systems helps you improve what is working and discard what isn't. What this means to you is that is helps you to repeat your success over and over until you make it big while preventing you from making the mistakes from the past.

It's easier said than done but these are the only two things you need for your goal.

Bonus tip: If you find my advise useful, learn a little about BPM (business process modelling). It help you organize and create systems faster (though I've learned everything the hard way).

Do you specifically want to make a webapp, or is independence the most important thing for you?

If the latter, I'd encourage you to look around at ALL the potential means of making money with your skills, not just creating a webapp. That could include consulting, infoproducts, some kind of SEO / affiliate play, training, etc.

Of all the available means of making a boss-independent living on the Internet, webapps appear to be one of the slightly harder ones. By no means impossible, mind - it's nothing like trying to make a living from the arts, for example. There are plenty of people on and off HN who have done it. However, depending on your skillset, there may be more straightforward ways.

At minimum, I would like something growing in my asset column, since saving enough to buy stocks or real estate seems unrealistic at this point[1]. So I have to create my own assets.

If I have to be extremely active in it, like consulting or training, then I'd just be creating another job for myself. I'd be less interested in that, as the goal is for asset growth.

Why is making a webapp slightly harder? The technical aspect, or are opportunities saturated, or the many hats you have to wear?

[1] I'm in the Bay Area with family. Alternatively, I can try to switch to software engineering for better pay, which is also one of the potential payoffs of building web apps.

My best guess on webapps vs, say, infoproducts is that there's more avenues for failure in a webapp.

With an infoproduct, you've basically got:

1) Screwed up your market research, no market. 2) Screwed up your marketing, no-one hears about you. 3) Screwed up the content, problem obvious.

With a webapp, you've got all sorts of design and usability issues. Features are non-obvious even once you've got the core value proposition down. Viral loop is trickier to engineer. Onboarding is a thing. And so on.

But that's just my guess.

Short answer: Absolutely. Why ? Because many people are already doing it (including me).

It all comes down to the path you take to get there. The destination is totally possible. The path will determine whether you are able to get there or not.

Write down 5 of your best ideas on paper or wherever. Then leave it for a few days. If you think of a new idea someday, go back to that old list and check if that idea was already something you wrote before. Give it an extra point. Rinse and repeat until you realize that you keep coming back to one idea more than others. Pick that one. Of course, you could already believe strongly in an idea and then you don't ned to do all this.

Next step is to build a prototype of this idea. If you can build a web app yourself, then do it using the language/framework you are comfortable with. DO NOT think about whether this is the right language/framework. IT DOES NOT MATTER AT THIS TIME. Heck, use Wordpress to patch a bare minimum working prototype if you really need to. But you need to get something out there. Something that is not in your head but something concrete. It does not have to be pretty or slick. Trust me. The other side of it is that you will NEVER release something and that is worse than releasing garbage.

Work on getting traction on this. I don't know how to tell you every possible way to achieve this as this is where the real challenge is.

Once you get decent enough traction, then you can choose to quit your job if you can afford to do that. Save, save save. If you want to have another partner/help, think about getting that person on board. Or may be you want to remain solo. that is fine for the type of business you asked about.

Then you know what comes next ?Just fuckin quit your job!! I did that. Yes, you can do that. There will NEVER be a right time to do it. If you are ready, you are ready. Otherwise you are never ready. Don't think about what you will lose by quitting your job. That is small compared to what you may be gaining. But be ready to lose it all. Have that spirit. You will do fine.

All the best.

"Just fuckin quit your job!!" Its 9pm where I am and I'm too tired to type, but the advice above is simply very bad. How is he supposed to live until (if ever) his idea gains traction? Better to work on the business until it is profitable. I've done it and I know.

Thanks, this is what I wanted to hear. I'm at the prototyping stage, and I was afraid that the market is already saturated with webapps. Or worse, was never that big a space as it would seem on HN.

np. Remember this. There is always someone else doing what you are doing. You should never worry about that. Just execute the heck out of it. Yes there are to may webapps but to be able to create 100K income is very possible. Remember, we are not talking about a high growth startup which is a different story.

The secret is sales and getting those first few clients. I have built a web application for professional and trade associations. I used to be Director of Research at an executive community with high annual fees - so I was building for a market that I had some direct experience in.

So far it has been much harder to get association leaders to change and try something new. I have feedback that it is cool and a premium product relative to what they currently do, but so far no one with money has gotten excited enough to actually buy.

On the other hand there are certainly people who have made your vision happen. If I had better answers I would have already solved my own sales problems.

Bringing innovation to a market is hard.

I've also have a "think different" idea, so I expect the sales part to be the challenge as well.

This journey is made easier by looking and speaking to customers first before you build anything. For people that just enjoy building apps, that is really hard to do. If you don't want to sell to people now, you won't when you have an MVP either.

Find a group of founding customers so you are building something specific based on their feedback. Your motivation and profitability are accelerated by having such involved customers.

You can investigate such a large number of ideas before you have to start building anything.

How much do you have in savings? 5 figures, 6 figures?

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